The Content Diva

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This is me, now: A chronic case of guilt, circumstantial distraction and an ever-increasing (and guilt-inducing) backlog of Things That Must Absopositively Be Reviewed Yesterday. Surely, some not entirely benign occult, alchemical sleight-of-hand is involved in the way the samples in my sample box seem to generate ever-larger amounts of liquid and libidinous progeny every time I blink? And yet another force – also morally ambiguous – colludes with my compulsion to write anything that isn’t a perfume review?

As of today, I have not one, not two, but four different book projects all coming to a boil. Two novels, a sequel and a historical novel, one prequel novella and last but never least, another book, but that one is a secret for now.

So if you’ve found the Genie rather lacking in updates these days, this is why. Mea culpa. Alas, my leaden guilt trip suitcase does not have wheels, but I’m hoping to upgrade…

Yet in the last two weeks, several events conspired to rattle me out of my brain-in-the-clouds mode and land me onto Planet Perfume with a loud and odiferous thud.

The first of these was an incisive blog post by one of my longest-running blog idols; Gaia of the Non Blonde. Whether reviewing eyeliner pencils or perfumes, her concise yet precise reviews have never, ever steered me wrong, even if our opinions – or our mileages – vary, as they sometimes do.

The blog post was intriguingly titled The Problem With Blogging – 2014 edition. Go read it. I’ll wait – and get back to that in a moment.

The second was even more shocking, and with all my experience in social media, you’d think I’d be far past surprising by now.

No.

Lo and behold, into my inbox ticked a TAG comment in need of approval, and I quote verbatim:

i see you put a lot of work

in your website, i know how to make your blogging easier,

do you know that you can copy any article from any website, make it 100% unique and pass copyscape test? For more details , just search in google – rewriter creates an unique article in a minute

Yes, it was a definite spam comment, and as such did not get approved. More to the point in this morally relativistic, anything-goes-in-the-blogosphere decade was my utter, old-school blood-curdling horror in realizing that somewhere out there, people are stealing blog content lock, stock and barrel (this has happened to at least four bloggers I know) and also reworking existing blog content to fly under the radar of Copyscape (who monitors for such things) as well as Google search algorithms for your blog, thus ranking you lower in the Great Google Relevance Page Rank. Or to put it in everyday terms: stealing not just your content but the influence and reach you have personally (and hopefully, organically) acquired by years of blogging to the virtual page, tweeting, sharing on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and everywhere else a readership is made.

The rock-bottom line is this one: why even bother to write a blog post, maintain it at some cost to both your personal life (presuming you have one) and your purse if you can just steal it and hog someone else’s credit – not to mention, ruin their credibility?

Dear readers, I almost gave up the ghost right them and there. Note the qualifying almost. Because if I had, a) you would not be reading this post and b) that would mean those §!”#€%&/?§! (insert your own epithet here) thieves had won.

Over my dead, decaying Diors!

The problems with bloggers

It’s no secret that certain sectors of the luxury blogosphere have undermined all semblance of reliability and honest opinion by their practices of kickbacks and paid (and therefore dishonest) reviews. I’m calling it as I see it to say that fashion and beauty blogs are especially ripe for suspicion. That thin line between paid advertorial content and blogging is becoming ever thinner and harder to dissemble, as Gaia rightly pointed out.

There’s a difference in both style, angle and audience between fashion, beauty and perfume blogs, which each have their own considerations. I’d also like to add I have no issues with monetized blogs, meaning blogs that carry relevant advertising links and banners. If you can make even a modest penny from clicks to other websites, then more power to you.

Yet one pink elephant in the room is this one: bloggers matter, even in our sweetly scented corner of the world, no matter what perfume houses or (certain) perfumers might argue to the contrary.

People read those posts, watch vlogs on YouTube and discuss reviews and perspectives on the many fragrance-related groups on Facebook. Ordinary (or not so ordinary!) people and perfume consumers sometimes even let reviews influence the size and scope of their lemmings.

While this might not have an effect on a given perfume house’s bottom line to any substantial degree, the opinions of perfume bloggers have indeed greatly increased – and in some cases built – a brand’s reputation.

In this day and age of instant access to anyone anywhere, when the six degrees of separation rule shrinks by the minute, reputation is where the bottom line starts and sometimes ends. And like it or not, agree or not as you please, in an age of ever-present social media, reach and instantaneous interaction, reputation isn’t everything – it’s quite literally the only thing.

A Free Lunch

US bloggers are obligated by law to provide a disclaimer on their blog posts stating whether or not they’ve received their samples for consideration and review. Bloggers elsewhere – which would include yours truly in the EU – are under no such obligations. Or are we?

Since I began that ill-advised writing exercise I call perfume writing in 2010, the perfume blogging landscape has changed entirely, as indeed has the perfume industry itself, and I rather suspect we ain’t seen nothing yet. In all that time, I’ve specifically asked for samples precisely twice. The first time nearly killed me, I was so mortified, mortified for a very human reason: who doesn’t love free stuff? Located in a niche-less part of the world, mostly too impecunious to afford to order even sample packs of things I’d like to try, my future as a perfume writer was a chancy thing in 2010.

Yet if not for an enterprising part-time perfumer who took a chance on a voice in the Void and sent her a generous sample pack or generous friends and fellow bloggers, I never would have.. a) written about perfume to the extent I have b) acquired the international network I thank my chosen deities for every day I live and last but never least c) made and forged some of the most important, fulfilling and cherished friendships of my entire life. All from that fabled ‘free lunch’ of free samples.

But are they really? Most of the brands I review are either niche or indie perfumers in Europe and the US who are their own entire marketing and PR teams, and we all know it: there’s no such thing as bad PR.

For that matter, there’s no such thing as ‘free’ samples, either, if my own massive guilt trip is any indication. When I’m contacted by PR companies or perfume houses asking if there’s anything of theirs I’d like to try, I always make a point of stating that I can’t guarantee when anything will be reviewed (or not), just as I’m unable to guarantee a 100% positive review.

And yet… I’ve encountered not a few perfumes and not a few famous ones that I’ve loathed no end. Which is an opinion, not a fact proclaiming the perfume in question as inherently horrible (although I’ve encountered a few of those as well). So even if I’ve fallen at the fence of personal taste and inclination, I can at least have the decency to pay my verbose respects to the concept, at least. In so doing, I’ve realized a few stunning truths: that certain brands’ overall aesthetic preoccupations always – or nearly – allies with my own, meaning I at least like most of them, and also there are other, likewise lionized brands I can’t even stand in the same room.

But here’s the rub: between butterflies and blooms, or perfume houses and perfume bloggers, gratitude is a two-way street.

Even so, some of them seem to think the traffic is only allowed in one direction: it’s all about them. We blasted, wretched, irrelevant, opinionated bloggers are simply the vehicle that will (so they hope?) propel them to the stratosphere of perfumista superstardom and infinite black-inked bottom lines and massive worldwide distribution deals.

I’ve written raves of perfumes that have been blithely ignored by the companies who created them, in spite of tags and utterly blatant, shameless self-promotion. And I’ve written the occasional chilly-to-tepid review that has been plastered all over social media.

As a semi-famous relative and DK writer said to me this past year, the one thing you as a writer or blogger can’t control is how your words are received. You never know.

Or not, for in this dog-eat-dog world I’ve also been privately lambasted by people for having ‘insider access’ to new brand releases which questions both the brand who sends them (because they appreciate my opinion?) and my integrity as a blogger. (WTF?)

It gets worse. Much, much worse.

The Inexcusable

Sometimes – not at all often – it has happened I’ve written a review – a good one, and some time later, received a full bottle (or a large decant) of the perfume in question from a grateful indie perfumer or perfume house. It would be hard to describe just how grateful I’ve been for those extravagant and likely sincere tokens of appreciation, or how happy they’ve made me every time I’ve opened the red IKEA cabinet of doom and seen them glittering in the light, and every time I’ve cherished wearing them as a reminder of the person behind the perfume.

Yet it seems to have become a burgeoning – and despicable – practice among some bloggers to either sell these bottles (some of them very rare) or decant them on at a profit to interested parties. Which is not only an insult of the first order, it’s also a defiant slap in the face to those of us who dearly love those treasures in our cabinets because they were given in good faith and given as personal. It’s something that gives all of us a deserved checkered reputation for questionable ethics, and something I consider the lowest of low blows in human endeavor.

(Im)Moral Suspicions

This blog – The Alembicated Genie – is a proud and l-o-u-d independent blog. Meaning I will never monetize it, since I’m old school and unfashionable and don’t give a flying who knows it – and also precisely… independent. If I rave about something, you can bet your vintage Nombre Noir it’s because I think the perfume in question is that great and good. As the saying goes: your mileage may vary. I have never, I do declare on one super-rare, exquisite and costly perfume I own and adore, received any kind of compensation for any kind of review and I never will.

Having said that, the alter ego of this blog has also written and prepared press releases and copy for a few select people in the industry – for money. In such instances, the Genie as you know her is nowhere in sight, because she has no part of it at all.

The writer that I am is for sale, as all artists are to differing degrees.

The perfume writer and blogger, on the other hand, never will be.

Now, you know.

Reality Checks

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, those thieves who choose to profiteer off the backs of those of us who do what we do for love on our own time and initiative will find they’re not only reported to several relevant authorities for daring to suggest that stealing is a ethically feasible alternative to creating content of your own as well as the radical proposition that blogging should be easy (the very idea! :-O), they’ll also find my content has been bullet-proofed to the best of my abilities.

Because in this day and age of blogvertising, I’m more than a little proud of belonging to the one percent of social media who creates the content my readers will (hopefully) enjoy. From scratch, from the heart, con amore.

Call me the Content Diva. As soon as I get the next harrowing deadline out of the way.

With grateful thanks to Gaia, the Non Blonde, for making me think.

Price and Prejudice

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 – Of luxury and lemmings

Recently, while trolling trawling through the recesses of blogs, comments and forum threads scattered throughout Planet Perfume, I’ve more than once come across a confounding, if not confusing ‘trend’. Call it a tendency, call it a predilection or even a preoccupation, it’s nevertheless just prevalent enough to catch this perfume writer’s attention in the dog days of summer.

Once upon a time in this exalted fragrant stratosphere, a phrase reverberated in cyberspace:

One hundred dollars is the new free!

In other words, with price points being what they were and with niche and indie perfume houses trying to trump each other in their eagerness to scratch our luxury itch and reel in new customers, the ante only had one way to go… up. And up. For a while, it seemed that fragrant cognoscenti were only too happy to comply.

After all… you got what you paid for, right? Which was what, precisely? Olfactory masterpieces in exquisite packaging with drop-dead blood-curdling attention to detail every step of the way from a creative director’s mind to the hot UPS guy on your doorstep?

Or was it something altogether darker and more devious… a big, fat, expensive-looking stamp on your person (and your credit statement) in neon letters proclaiming:

You, dear customer, have been had.

Those were the days, dear readers, the days that implied a kind of innocence if not naïveté about the nefarious doings of that everlasting aspirational business: Planet Perfume.

Not any longer. For increasingly across those forum threads and blog comments, those customers are no longer so easily bamboozled by hyperbolic PR copy stating their brand-new snake oil is ‘distilled by angels with the morning dew of the summer Solstice from the jasmine fields of Grasse.’ (Or words to similar effect.)

Increasingly, discontent if not disillusion rumbles in the undergrowth. Whether due to ennui in the face of relentless  – and endless – launches or simple overdrawn credit limits, those fragrant cognoscenti are beginning to protest that those luxurious, redolent juices we so adore to adorn our personalities with simply cost…

Too Damn Much.

Luxury, schmuxury.

Before I shoot myself in the metaphorical foot (a favorite summer pastime), let me start with what I define as luxury as it pertains to the world of perfume. I should add this is my definition and may not be yours, so feel free to argue my claims in the comments.

Luxury in a perfume brand is…

¤   The expression of a particular aesthetic approach in terms of concept, design and execution, an approach that appeals to the customer’s urge to distinguish his or her individuality from everyone else’s.

¤   Meticulous attention to detail throughout that process from idea to delivered product that makes the customer feel validated and appreciated in their choices.

¤   Although by definition a luxury brand should not be too readily available, since luxury also implies a certain degree of exclusivity, luxury in itself should not be exclusive in the sense that it excludes potential customers but inclusive, by offering them options to make informed decisions before handing over their hard-earned/ill-gotten/cash, and welcoming in new customers-to-be.

Stop for a moment and think about all those brands who might embody that definition for you. I know several niche brands that are supremely luxurious, and also quite a few indie brands who scratch my luxury itch to heights of surpassing pleasure, even some indie lines who don’t make any particular claims to over-hyped luxury and/or superheated PR copy one way or another, but nevertheless fulfill one even more important criterion which is even harder to define:

¤   That emotional response we have to a given perfume in a way so it becomes an extension of whatever mood we wish to express. In other words, if a brand with all its symbolic associations and those contained in any given juice is able to evoke an emotional response in you as the consumer, that too can be defined as a kind of luxury.

The Hijacked Concept

Perfume is the ultimate aspirational – and indeed inspirational – art form. Any perfume will perform differently on whomever wears it according to body chemistry, weather and composition.

Unlike, say, a luxury handbag that proclaims its aspirational message right out in the open; “I am the inordinately proud owner of a Chanel handbag, and you are dead-jealous because I have it and you don’t”, no one except other cognoscenti will ever know or even care you just blew your rent money on Absolute Essence of Aphrodite because you simply… Had. To. Have. It.

It is, in effect, the ultimate in private luxury. Which doesn’t mean it can’t and often does have a profound effect on your mood on any given day to literally waft smelling (and it is to be hoped – feeling) like a million bucks.

The problem is… the very idea of luxury as it exists in the general cultural imagination today has been hijacked if not altogether kidnapped to such an extent by advertising and marketing as to become virtually meaningless. Which leads to that other problem in the world of perfume, price and prejudice.

Everybody wants it…

As long as they don’t have to pay too much. Or if they should, it behooves a brand to make that price tag as painless as possible.

By now, a lot of us are aware that there’s often a severe disconnect between price and epiphany. In some cases, you certainly don’t get what you pay for, and in others, the price point is ridiculously low for such stellar stuff.

Some brands I could mention – although I shall restrain myself, just – are prefabricated sheep dressed up as semi-bespoke wolves. Not so long ago, I had an opportunity to try one highly touted brand launched to a great deal of fanfare a few years ago as being the Brand With The Mostest Of Everything. (Insert your own over-the-top adjectives here). At that price level, I was expecting at least an out-of-body experience or an ‘Exorcist’ moment – eyes rolling to the back of my head, convulsions of outright olfactory ecstasy, head rotating a full 178 degrees etc.

It didn’t happen. What did happen was this: I had to sit down in amazement. Next thing I knew, I was digging frantically through my perfume cabinet and finding the original inspirations for nearly every single one of them. They were exquisitely crafted, high-quality perfumes, no question about it. I just wasn’t ready – assuming I even had that kind of expendable cash to spend, which I emphatically don’t – to buy into anything that basically had ‘sucker’ printed on the bottle in 23-karat gold.

So what are we buying?

Ladies and gentlemen… we are buying an experience. We buy perfumes on the assumption that they will somehow make us express what we could otherwise never say in words, to reflect our best (or worst! ;) ) selves, to surrender ourselves to a dream we want to reflect, a persona we want to be, a uniquely personal story we wish to tell without words. But I have to marvel at whether or not there isn’t some kind of mind over money disconnect at work in the background.

Because as we complain about the price, we’re really complaining about the deplorable state of affairs that keeps us from buying it right this instant, to jump on that express train of lemmings in the wake of a new review, to distinguish ourselves and our own impeccable taste above the hoi polloi who settle for aspirational masstige rather than the ‘real’ deal, the silly fools.

Meanwhile, the perfumer/brand owner in question might very well be the kind of obsessive-compulsive nutcase who insists on the highest level of quality he or she can sustain or support as a brand.

If that means it costs the sun, the moon and the stars in raw materials, packaging, execution, time and the many sleepless nights keeping the whole wretched enterprise in the black, all the while dreaming up new launches, new directions, marketing, PR copy, distribution, new epiphanies, then…oh, well.

Perfumery is an aspirational business, after all.

Which means there will also always be a market for those prefabricated sheep in wolves clothing, since who’s to know except the brand owner laughing all the way to the bank as the juice in question is not, in fact, fabricated by cherubim working in moonlight on those fabled Provençal hillsides, but by a very prosaic anonymous supplier who trucks it in industrial steel tanks?

Who cares? We’re buying the dream.

Reality bites

Here’s a paradox for you. In my nearly three years as a perfume writer, I have never been so penurious in my life. But as my late mother used to say in a wry comment to her own rags to riches to rags life story:

If you can’t afford anything, you can at least aspire to the best.

My first four perfume reviews came from two years of accumulated birthday presents, hunted down on discount sites at bargain prices. The one full bottle I’ve bought in all this time (since we can all agree decants, splits and unloved bottle bargains from dear friends don’t count) was my reward for completing my first novel. I saved up for it by forgoing hair dye (a perilous undertaking as a (vain) woman in your forties, I might add) for nine long months – the time it took me to write my book, in fact.

The day it arrived – exquisitely packaged, with a personal card, with numerous extras, with that magnificent, splendiferous perfume of perfection within that equally exquisite bottle – I felt as if I had arrived. (I also cried, I was so happy.)

It became infinitely more than a perfume (and indeed, it’s mentioned several times in the book itself, so hotly did I covet it), infinitely more than a personal adornment or accessory – it became a symbol of all I had sacrificed to write a very personal story, a statement to all I could now achieve and become, a testament that I had the power to manifest any dream I desired.

Three years on, I still have that bottle, the only one of its kind. The dream is tantalizingly close to coming true. By now, I have about 8 ml left.

But that beautiful bottle, the value it represents, the song its contents sing on my skin and the way it always makes me feel to this very day, is not simply an expensive luxury. It is a treasure that makes me happy every time I see it in my cabinet, and maybe, in our relentless chase after our own lemmings over that cliff, this is what we’ve forgotten in our bellyaching over pricing and our eagerness to have our prejudices validated by our peers.

A beloved perfume, regardless of what it costs, is a treasure to be cherished, worn, adorned and adored.

In other words, the ultimate private luxury.

Think about it. Isn’t that what you should be paying for?

___________________________________________

Help save the Genie! Find out more here.

A Brave New World

-       In which a D-list blogger ventures out on a limb!

Have you noticed how noisy the world in general and even the rarified air of the perfumosphere is getting lately? How demanding it has become to keep up, stay informed, engaged and relevant? Does the constant flow of …information, tweets, status updates, likes, comments, shares, blogs, links, websites, text messages, traffic both virtual and literal… drag you down and make you wonder, as I sometimes do, how utterly blissful and uncomplicated life would be if it could all just float away and be gone, if only so you could think, breathe and listen to nothing more exhilarating than the beat of your heart or a heart that you love?

Hold that thought.

But what if …you miss out? What if there’s yet another…epiphany, discovery, Brand New Thing/blog/brand/launch/thought-provoking WTF moment waiting to happen – and you miss it?

Best to just keep up as best you can with it all…just in case, just because, if only to keep yourself on the cutting edge of cool, knowledgable, hip or informed. Just to hedge your bets.

Because you never know…

Since I became a perfume blogger nearly two years ago, my horizon has expanded exponentially to a degree I never imagined when I started by reviewing the contents of my perfume cabinet, since that was what I had. And since becoming the unbearably smug owner of an iPhone, I gave my social media/blatant and utterly shameless self-promotion skills a major overhaul in the process, joined Twitter and…all Hades broke loose. The Hordes of social media have been on the rampage ever since.

I also this past winter decided to complete some hardcore training in professional social media marketing – might as well hopefully put my money where my mouth is, or so I can dream – and since then, I’ve been privileged enough to apply as well as observe what I could call the Rules of Engagement from both sides of the same fence.

What does it all mean – for the bloggers who write about perfumes and the brands who need to promote their brand or new launches? If it’s true that 1% of a given interest group provides the content that 9% will comment on and 90% simply read and enjoy, what does it mean for the 99% who simply buy all that juice?

Here’s a surprise for you: According to this link, most licensed and/or ‘prestige’ mainstream perfume brands are doing a craptacular job of it. The one exception – also mentioned in the video link – is almost too depressing to contemplate.

But mainstream perfume brands are not the primary focus of the blogs I subscribe to nor the perfumes I mostly choose to review.

Why? They have marketing budgets/teams/paid advertising. They launch new perfumes on the basis of a brief – all too often written up by the self-same marketing department, hell-bent on marketing to the same demographic as everyone else, and again, all too often with the results to match. Uninspiring. Copycat. The same old formulas, same note du jour, same gargantuan conglomerates applying the same sledgehammer PR tactics and only the name on the bottle ever changes.

It’s been stated before on this blog and I’ll state it again – the exceptional rarely happens when a corporate machine and perfume-by-committee gets involved. And if we as perfume bloggers seek out the extraordinary, the exceptional, the olfactory epiphany – the indie/niche fragrant superhighway is one sure way to find it.

So how are they doing out there in this brave new world? And what might it all mean for the bloggers who write about them or the connoisseurs who buy them and enjoy them?

For the sake of argument, I shall henceforth make no distinction between ‘indie’, ‘niche’ or ‘mainstream niche’. It makes it easier on this writer, and easier on the readers. Let’s just lump them all together and call them…’niche’, as in…exclusively available, with limited distribution and often, but not always exclusive price tags to match. These are all the brands, the names, the perfumes so many of us wear, adore, aspire to buy, save up for, dream about and love to write about.

Fasten your seatbelts darlings, because now it gets a little turbulent.

Brands

Here’s a fact few brands of any stripe in any market can quite manage to swallow. In social media, the brand doesn’t belong to the owner/perfumer/company. It belongs to its fans. Usually, these fans are also the main consumers of said brands, and if they’re treated right – I’ll be getting back to that – they are the best and cheapest ambassadors any brand can hope to have. But even now, even today, even this morning come to that, too many of them are still stuck in the one-track, one-way mindset of old-school marketing, which is…”We tell you what’s cool. You choose what to do with it.” So they wonder…at the lack of engagement on their Facebook pages, or the lack of enthusiasm from their customer base, or their lack of black on the bottom line.

In the world of niche, it’s a somewhat different story. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, the law of Six Degrees of Separation no longer applies. In the niche world, you can often start or continue an online conversation with the very perfumer (or social media-responsible person) whose creations rocked your planet/made you retch/elevated your quotidian existence. Social propriety is still appropriate, that goes without saying. There are myriad Facebook groups – bless ‘em all – who are exclusively devoted to perfume, to discussing them, arguing about them, spreading the word about them. And the smart brands are listening in on those conversations and paying attention to what’s being said. In other words, they’re doing precisely what they should be doing and that is, engaging their customers/fans in a dialogue.

Having said that, not a few of them fall splat at the fences of their websites. Cranky, clunky online shopping carts and untrackable orders are two issues some of them are known to have, but far, far worse is the ever-present use of Flash. Two words: Just & Don’t. Flash makes sites slow, unsearchable by Google (never a good thing in this day and age), unable to bookmark or link to individual pages, and they irritate the crap out of the customer before he or she can even order. Music we never asked for, special effects we don’t want, PR ballyhoo and copy we’re less and less inclined to read while watching an unexciting progress bar that says ‘Loading…73%’ Anything that gets in the way of having an experience is just plain…bad. Save it for specially linked-to pages – and leave it at that. Your fans will be grateful. Treat them right, and they’ll be loyal, too.

In the niche world, that world of aspirational luxury, the trend in these last few years has seemed to up the ante in terms of just how we define it. And there’s no end in sight. Jean Patou might have – if Elsa Maxwell’s famous ad copy is to be believed – thought he created ‘the most expensive perfume in the world’. When I catch myself thinking that 150$ is practically a bargain, clearly something has got to give. I’ve sniffed a few of those hyper-luxe wonders. Some have blown my socks off. Some of them haven’t. And some of those super-luxurious brands are doing present and potential customers a serious disservice by not providing an entry-level sample program/sample/discovery kit at a reasonable price tag. Ordinary folks with ordinary, non-gazillionaire lives are often quite willing to spend substantial sums on their passion – if they have some idea of what they’re getting. If not, a 700$ mistake can hurt in far more ways than one.

Bloggers

Ah, to be…a blogger! Beholden to no one but your own flaming passions, writing what you please when you please and how it damn well pleases you to do it – where would the enlightened 99% perfume consumer be without you?

For one, not nearly so enlightened. The world of niche and indie perfumers owe a huge, huge debt to the perfume bloggers who write about them, and most of them – myself included – do. And the brands who appreciate all that free PR and ad copy, who inform their fans on Facebook pages about reviews and/or retweet the link to them – are the brands who know a thing or two about promoting a certain degree of brand loyalty that goes in both directions – for mutual and often perpetuating benefit.

As a blogger, I owe a tremendous amount to those intrepid writers who went before the likes of D-list me, who informed me, educated me, made me laugh and paved the way…not to mention pointed to many epiphanies and mind-blowing moments I might otherwise never have known. I’ve been privileged enough to establish friendships, share discoveries, have discussions, and make my own suspect reputation for questionable purple prose through the world-wide blogging community, and as a result been rewarded and sometimes even applauded for it.

For all of which, I’m so grateful, it’s bathetic. Really.

But this world – even this brave new world of social media – is built on…reciprocation. It’s a quid-pro-quo world. And here’s where things can get a bit tricky for bloggers who might question their ethics, their independance or their impartiality.

Brand X needs to spread the word of their newest launch. Enter the blogosphere. Say Blogger Y has written about brand X before. Naturally, Brand X will want Blogger Y to review it. So they send Blogger Y a sample.

Does Blogger Y write up a complimentary review because the sample/bottle/press kit was free? Because they’re on Brand X’s super-exclusive ‘insider’ reviewer list? Because they love everything (or mostly) that Brand X creates/stands for as a brand?

This is a can of worms I’ve often wrestled with personally, since where do you draw the line in terms of what you review, when you review it, never mind the how… you review it. I think this is one area where bloggers distinguish themselves.

I know of a few blogs that are almost unfailingly snarky. You wonder at the things that make the grade, because the level of derision that glows radioactive on your screen is enough to strip wallpaper off the wall behind your back. I like to read them for the entertainment value, but I rarely take them seriously. So far as I’m concerned, there’s no shortage of snark online, but that doesn’t mean I have to appreciate it or even spread my own vitriol in the process because…I’m a blogger and I write what I damn well please!

What did I say? Social proprieties still apply. If – as I fervently believe –perfume creation/conceptualization is an art form as relevant and as intricate as any other art, then it should be judged as such. Artists are touchy, sensitive-skinned creatures when it comes to critique. Unless I specifically set out to give a satirical spin on something I consider horrendous, which doesn’t happen often, I will at least attempt to appreciate the concept and the art behind a given perfume I review. It has happened exactly once that I was unable to review a perfume at all – not because it wasn’t flawless, beautiful or thought-provoking, but because it woke up a painful memory I thought I’d forgotten, so much so I couldn’t write about it. At all. I’ve felt guilty about it ever since.

As a blogger, I review what and as I can when I can, which is never as much as I would prefer, but that has nothing to do with blogging per se, and more to do with stylistic differences in the way I review. I can’t – no matter how I’ve surely tried – write like anyone else but me, review a new perfume every day, write short and snappy reviews, and I can’t, above all else, not dive into the bottles and coax the genies out in my own way. Perfume is the most intimate, personal art of all, and up close and idiosyncratic/iconoclastic is the only way my words will out.

I may not have the audience or the reputation of some of those big name bloggers with countless thousands of daily hits and endless retweets. I’m human enough to admit to a little envy because of it. Some of them link back to me, yet many of them don’t, if they’re even aware I exist. On the other hand, I don’t write like them either – and isn’t the whole point of the blogosphere freedom of expression? And isn’t the point of this Brave New World a world where there’s room enough for all sorts of voices to be read?

Smart brands will recognize the bloggers who have no other reasons to write about than to communicate their passion. Bloggers for their part can often predict or sense a trend well before it lands on shelves/blogs/perfume cabinets.

And in the end no matter what you do, whether you’re a brand fan, a brand, a blogger or a simple perfume aficionado, the passion, the enthusiasm, the dialogue and the creativity that flows both ways is what really matters in the endless quest for that next Great Big Perfumed Epiphany.

Something many niche brands understood a long time ago, and new niche brands need to realize. Listen to the conversations. Spread the word. Read the blogs. Make your voice heard. And make your name – in perfume, in prose, or in the presence you create.

It’s a brave new world out there with a brave, adventurous audience. And Fortune, as the saying goes, favors the brave!

I adore perfume. It allows me to take up more space.

With thanks to Yosh Han and Ayala Sender for the link, and to the very dear friend and diehard perfume connoisseuse who prompted this blog post in a phone conversation last week!

Original image: A sculpture by Brooklyn artist Ebon Heath.